How Artists from LUMS Found Their Creative Grounding during the Pandemic
By: Syeda Aiman Zehra
o set the scene: we have four artists from LUMS dismembered from their natural creative repositories, four walls closing in on them in a confrontation; outside, it is perhaps Lahore, Karachi, or Islamabad—the cities our artists hail from—but it doesn’t matter where we place them on the map. For them, it’s been the same still picture outside their window. What matters now is what they find within.
Our first artist, Mahnoor Lali ’23, has found a crossover between embroidery and painting, a realm that she devotionally weaves through at her own account by bringing in threads from her past “stitch by stitch” to “understand who and where [she] is now.” The process is laborious, repetitive, and begs days of patience. “But artists say trust the process, and I have to when I can’t see whether the tiny stitches are taking me to that big picture in mind.”
One such big picture hosts a brown woman whose space is invaded by a series of vines extending out to her and larger than life Monstera leaves obscuring her face. The bright red of the dress begs attention to serve an aesthetic value that stops before it can turn human—the accompanying account is a familiar rhyme of similar dehumanizing effects: “Das pattay toray… bhaiya ki dulhan kaali, so so nakhron wali.” Lali comments, “Where is the woman in all of that? Why is she so removed while this rosy narrative about a rishta is being created about her?”
“It just comes down to females claiming space in any way they can,” she notes about her autobiographical art. At the same time, she nods towards efforts around her that have brought a shift in women’s ownership of their lived experiences through movements like the Aurat March.
Continuing in the same vein, we have Kinza Ghanchi ’23, who finally got time March onwards to pick up her iPad and Apple pencil and take control over her halted reality by digitizing her emotional process. When she did so, the community she found on her social media played a big part in the active construction of her identity as an artist. “I had never seen Instagram like that, it suddenly got so political that you had to take breaks. But, everyone on there kept saying, ‘don’t be afraid to use your voice for what matters.’” And so, she dived straight into activist art–art that responds to or calls attention to socio-political events and movements concerning the artist in some way.
In June, the #MeToo movement raged across the country and demanded support from bystanders and change-makers and accountability from perpetrators. Ghanchi delivered where she felt she could. “I couldn’t read the stories, but WhatsApp groups were talking, I got to hear my friends’ perspectives. I was so angry, I had to put something out there, anything,” she said. The outcome was a doodled animation of three females holding hands, sharing the same pained and hesitant expression. Surrounding them in bold blocks of color were the words, “me too”.
On the 3D stick figures that make frequent appearances in her posts, Ghanchi says, “I think the little dude can become my stylistic thing, you know.”
To turn attention to stylistic choices characteristic of the artist, Asim Munir ’23 has an interesting journey to relate. “I attended the UX Pak Conference held by INDEX. One speaker said that an artist needs to know how to express the same thing through different mediums.” Munir launched off from here: through several art forms ranging from photo manipulation and pixel art to 3D animations and typography, his work began to undertake a sense of social responsibility as he sought to break stereotypes surrounding phuppos, deconstruct the Pakistani identity in relation to minorities, and decolonize concepts part of our mundane consciousness—playing cards, advertisements, and an otherwise westernized imagined future.
Munir tells The Post, “After my friend told me about Arabic advertisements cultivated in the local language, I began my own research. I looked at bazaar walls for Urdu advertisements. I started writing my own thoughts in Urdu.” The last few months saw Munir’s instagram posts being curated wholly in his mother tongue. This was done to the effect that his artworks too started displaying an aesthetic, cultural, and linguistic switchover of our most used social media platforms from English to Urdu.
Was it the pandemic that made all these ventures possible? “Pandemic sirf aik kirdar tha, wakt diya tha. It depends on the person whether or not they want to go after something,” he answers.
This sentiment is characteristic of Shiza Akhtar’s ’22 art as well. Her fascination with body distortions began just before the pandemic and only heightened later, first through the traditional art form of painting, and then through digitalization.
At first glance, her art page is an amalgamation of blue-skinned portraits perfected to the jawline, and a vast collection of eyes, deformed and spilling across the confinements of the posts. “I don’t know how to feel about anything, so instead of thinking and letting those emotions consume you, you put them aside and enter this complete apathetic mode,” Akhtar says regarding her distortion art.
One painting exhibited four faces pressed together with their eyes leaking out into each others’, creating a river flowing from one end of the face to the other. “It’s like the pandemic, we are in contact, but we aren’t connected the same way. Kind of like being dead together,” Akhtar laughs.
The discoveries and learning arcs of these artists through solitude and through art show to us that the head and the heart still exist in the same body that enables them to conduct the act of creation. With this in mind, they are now closer to their creative source than they were ever before.
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